Liturgy Lines: The Voice and the Ear

by Elizabeth Harrington

This article originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on May 11th, 2017.


The Scriptures are written down and bound into books but, as Paul writes to Timothy, you cannot imprison the Word of the Lord (2 Tim 2:9). God’s word is a saving event. God said, let there be light, and there was light… So we call Christ the Word of God, the decisive intervention of God’s love in the world. In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:1, 14).

The reader in the liturgy gives voice to the scriptural text, liberating it from the printed page. In the proclamation, God addresses us in a human language event; God intervenes in the unique present, speaking to us in the here and now in words we hear and understand.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen Christ is present between the voice and the ear.  We encounter God in a meeting of human hearts, in the faith-full presence to one another of reader and hearers.

It is vital to recognise that the human voice is the primary instrument of the word and that God’s word is proclaimed in the liturgy by a person of faith for a community of faith. It is a real human event in which God speaks to his people.

The mechanization of the word, or its electrification through microphones, amplifiers and speakers, should support the human act but not overwhelm it. Such a liturgical philosophy is diametrically opposed to prevailing culture of the pop concert or television studio.

Many churches and cathedrals were built before the advent of sound systems and yet they were places for preaching and the proclamation of the word. This requires a certain approach to the voice.  The speaker needs to be able to project the voice across the space, pacing the speech to listen for the echo bouncing off the back wall before continuing.

Giving primacy to the human voice means that amplifiers and microphones must be of good quality so that they reproduce the human voice naturally and without distortion. Microphones should be kept turned down.  Formation for readers must include learning how to project the voice through regularly practice in the church without a microphone.

Throwing the voice out to the people in the middle and back of the church will change the pacing and intonation of the proclamation. It becomes a public act with the whole assembly, not just a quasi-private event at the lectern upon which the assembly is allowed to eavesdrop.  It requires physical effort on the part of the reader.

So much for the voice – what about the ear?

Communicating the word is a two way process which requires attentive listeners for it to be effective. People will hear the word of God better if they don’t read along from Missals during the Liturgy of the Word but engage in dialogue with the word.  Readers are channels of God’s word, but channels don’t work well if there is a blockage

“Liturgy Lines” are short 500-word essays on liturgical topics written by Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Brisbane’s education officer. They have been published every week in The Catholic Leader since 1999.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane.


  1. Great post. And very true. A mentor priest – now deceased, sadly for us – was adamant that the Word should be spoken and heard; simply reading should be a last resort.

    Congregational literacy is a relatively recent phenomenon, probably only around the past 100 years or so. Even when I do my daily readings, I find it much more meaningful to read them out loud; it really does make a difference. As a frequent lector, I listen to the congregation while I proclaim, and I know I have failed if I hear lots of pages turning. My goal is always to read well enough to make it easier and more meaningful for people to listen instead of read along.

    1. @Charles Day:
      It certainly helps when readers do not succumb to the temptations offered by amplification to use a conversational tone and pace. (There’s a practical reason readings were cantillated in some way in many religious scriptural traditions.) I well remember a Sunday morning Mass when the power went out. Mercifully, the priest had training in public speaking of the old-fashioned kind – so he quickly slowed down significantly, aligned his torso for proper vocal production, and used a much more proclamatory tone. It took a few minutes for my ears to adjust. It also helped that incidental noise from the congregation also reduced notably (because that kind of noise had become much more noticeable to others). The shift was a revelation.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        I had a similar experience one Sunday this past year when strong winds knocked out the power, including the organ. I played piano a bit, but we sang the Missal chants unaccompanied, and the celebrant knew exactly what to do, projecting his voice easily. The most important part was that people listened more closely, and the congregational singing was better than normal.

  2. I also observe, through extended eye contact, to what extent the assembly in their turn maintain eye contact with me. Do they trust me to respect their eagerness to listen directly without an aide-memoire? Do I succeed in communicating the words and phrases so that they and I all understand without paper or electronic crutches? Are they as familiar with, and as eager to celebrate, the Word as I am? Our music director reminds everyone after communion to replace neatly the mass booklets. They are in use, at the altar as well as the benches, precisely because some part of our worship is unfamiliar to us. If liturgy were fully alive and well among us, we might not need to depend on them so much. (I do not say “ambo” because we indicate clearly that we proclaim those inspired words from a lectionary.)

  3. People will hear the word of God better if they don’t read along from Missals during the Liturgy of the Word but engage in dialogue with the word. Readers are channels of God’s word, but channels don’t work well if there is a blockage.

    One hears this assertion made, but I am yet to see any actual evidence presented. Is there any- Are any aware of studies which support this claim?

    If some people tells us they are better able to engage in dialogue with the Word with the assistance of printed text, on what basis do we presume to lecture them that it is a blockage?

    Reality is greater than ideas, as Pope Francis continually reminds us. Our liturgy needs to incorporate this, with its pastoral principles being guided by evidence, and not much repeated but untested assertions.

  4. “Many churches and cathedrals were built before the advent of sound systems and yet they were places for preaching and the proclamation of the word. This requires a certain approach to the voice. The speaker needs to be able to project the voice across the space, pacing the speech to listen for the echo bouncing off the back wall before continuing.”

    This is true, but there is something missing – many old churches had canopies over the pulpits, to aid in sound projection. Personally, I think they ought to be revived.

  5. “It is vital to recognise that the human voice is the primary instrument of the word…”

    “… primacy to the human voice…”

    I’m not sure that in our modern age we can just assume that audio/speech/voice has primacy anymore. I can only speak for myself, but with email, twitter,, etc., I read/write substantially more text in a day than I hear/speak. For me, the visual word has much more currency than does the spoken word. Being told I shouldn’t follow along in a missal removes a parallel mode of communication, which prevents me from achieving a deeper understanding than I would from hearing speech alone.

  6. Research carried out by the University of NSW in 2007 showed that the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time.

  7. Elizabeth,

    So that might be a good place to start. Having a look at it, the study referred to is part of a literature on if PowerPoint is helpful or not.

    Having a look at the literature reviews on that subject, it appears the overall conclusions are mixed (ie it likely doesn’t help or hinder much either way).

    But interestingly, the draw backs identified relate essentially to overload & distraction. This is a particular issue with PowerPoint & projections as those tools force text on everyone – It is hard to ignore the giant screen even if its unhelpful to you.

    So in terms of lessons for liturgy there are a couple we might draw. First being that overall text isn’t likely to materially improve or degrade understanding, which doesn’t seem to be a strong enough basis to discourage it for those who prefer it.

    Secondly, big projection screens are likely a bad way to provide text, as its just another way of unhelpfully imposing.

    Missals, printed worship aids or even smartphone apps will likely be less intrusive, & give people the option if it works for them.

  8. And Powerpoint is probably one of the worst things to study in this regard, given how badly it is typically used.

  9. Karl,

    Indeed. I note some of the studies suggest better results with blackboards in an educational context, suggesting less overdone text doesn’t tax the ability to retain information in the same way.

  10. Once again, I hear the loud denials of those who want to control what they hear in the readings by reading along with them instead of allowing the Word to reach them through their ears and maybe surprise them with the unexpected. I wonder if those people might give the Word a chance one day.

      1. Karl, I am not sure that I understand your question.

        Anne Chapman: No one is talking about liturgical ministers being “stars”, but about how to be authentic when celebrating. Reading things that are meant to be listened to is just one example of that. It’s not about being high-falutin’ or denying people anything. It’s about encouraging people to hear what God is saying to them today, rather than what they might like/want/expect God to be saying to them today.

        One of the reasons why the texts in the latest Missal are so lousy is precisely because they were judged, by those who produced them, by how well they worked on the printed page and not by how well they worked when heard by normal people in the pews without texts in their hands. Admittedly, with these texts, it is sometimes easier to comprehend their Byzantine convolutions with a text in front of you, but that only emphasizes how inadequate they are to begin with.

        In normal circumstances, I can see no more reason for having the text of the readings to follow along with than having the typescript of the homily to read, which of course never happens. All these things are supposed to be listened to.

        I suspect that we will continue to disagree.

    1. Throughout this discussion I keep thinking of the liturgies I experience week after week with texts available and used by some and with others just listening, and I’m wondering why the issues being discussed here aren’t surfacing at all. Maybe having full texts to look at if needed (not everyone’s ears work the same way) is just a fine approach, and this aspect of how we do liturgy needn’t be centrally controlled for all? Or am I naive about the insidious things that are happening to those who read along?

  11. Wasn’t this subject thoroughly discussed just a couple of weeks ago? A couple of new voices – I agree with Mariko on this ” If some people tells us they are better able to engage in dialogue with the Word with the assistance of printed text, on what basis do we presume to lecture them that it is a blockage?”

    And I agree with Jonathan on this: “I’m not sure that …. we can just assume that audio/speech/voice has primacy anymore. …being told I shouldn’t follow along in a missal …. prevents me from achieving a deeper understanding than I would from hearing speech alone.”

    And as I did in the earlier discussion, I disagree with Paul Inwood. This time he predicates his argument on an unsupported assumption – that people don’t “give the [spoken] Word [without a printed text] a chance”. I was unfortunate enough to belong to a parish that decided to embrace this liturgical craze and remove all printed texts from the pews except hymnals. No matter how hard I forced myself to listen, listening was far inferior to being able to read the texts.
    I now attend a church that provides a written “worship” aid with ALL prayers, ALL readings, and the words to all songs/hymns/chants that are used frequently. There is also a hymnal for infrequently used music.
    Most of those who are excited about denying people the Word in written form seem to be priests, deacons, lectors, and others actively involved as some kind of “liturgist” – such as musicians.
    My request to you – please stop assuming that YOUR way is the only way, that YOUR preference must be embraced by all. Please have a little respect for your captive audience, the members of the congregation.
    Please remember it is not all about YOU, your ability to project your voice, your acting skills, your whatever. The point is for those in the congregation to hear the Word, even if they best “hear” it by reading it. The mass is not a performance and the lectors/priests/musicians are not stars in some kind of dramatic presentation.

  12. Yes, Mr. Inwood, we will disagree. You believe that ALL must be forced to hear the Word with their ears, exclusively, even if that means they don’t hear the Word very well at all, as is the case for many when forced to use the ears, exclusively. There is no reason that someone can’t “hear” what God has to say to them ‘today” more clearly with the ears than with the eyes. God can speak to us without any words at all. Be still. Listen to the silence, and you will hear God’s voice.

    If the point is that ALL be able to ‘hear” the Word – hear God’s voice in their inner being, in their souls – then those who wish to impose their preference that no written aids be provided are actually subverting the very end they claim to be supporting. To paraphrase what Jonathan said one more time – many of us “achieve a deeper understanding [from reading the Word ] than we do from hearing speech alone.”

    Your claim that all the readings are “meant to be listened to” seems a bit unlikely, given that Paul wrote letters. He didn’t travel to every community regularly and he wrote letters. I imagine some in the community read those letters out loud to others because it is probable that many were not able to read. That is not generally the case today.

    I’m not sure why the “no written aids PERIOD” people have such trouble understanding this simple reality. It does not match their personal ideal for liturgy, but is their personal ideal more important than helping people truly hear God’s Word by providing written aids that people can choose to use – or not use?

    And since you raised the subject of homilies, I will add this – I personally would LOVE to have a written copy of the homily. This is one reason I read Thomas Gumbleton’s homilies at NCR online. The written word speaks to me much more clearly than does the spoken word. Some priests will put either a written version of the homily, or a recording of it, on the parish website. It doesn’t happen very often, but it is wonderful when they do. I often read the homilies online that are made available by priests and ministers who pastor in many localities. They are a wonderful gift to those of us who hear best with our eyes.

  13. Paul,

    Let us return to evidence. You assert listening gives less control and therefore more capacity for surprise.

    What evidence, if any, exists for that assertion?

    It is certainly not my experience, or that of others commenting here. Nor am I aware of any research which would support your assertion in a generalised sense (though I am sure it is true for some people, presumably yourself included).

    If there is evidence, I would be very interested to see it. It might lead me to agree with you.

    But without evidence, you surely understand it is untenable to seek to override the express preferences of others? Our obligation to respect and welcome others different to ourselves requires no less.

  14. I do understand the arguments made that some people get more out of reading than listening, and I would always agree that if you cannot hear the lector/deacon/priest, or cannot understand he or she because of accents, mumbling, whatever, then you have to do what works.

    At the same time, the priest that I referred to earlier argued that the books of the Bible from which we take the readings were written for people to listen rather to read. How do we know this? Because at the time they were written, very few people could read; they had to listen. Even if they could read, there were no widely printed Missalettes in the pews. If you are in the congregation, I just think it is worth giving it a chance because that is how they were originally intended, but mainly, if you are a lector or a priest or deacon proclaiming the gospel, do enough preparation to make it easier for people to listen. They might give it a chance.

  15. Research on this subject could probably be found among those who followed Marshall McLuhan, who mainly philosophized about the topic. At one point he contrasted visual space with acoustic space which I think is what you are asking about. Visual space is what your eyes see, set in one direction and attentive to a single source, while acoustic space is what your ears hear, taking in sounds from all around you. The latter is more likely to promote surprise and discovery. Hot and Cool, as media descriptors, are similar in distinguishing the intensity of focus but I, and others, usually end up confused when I talk about it, so I won’t say more than that.

    What McLuhan provides is an understanding of some of the central issues being discussed here. Do different ways of presenting content affect the perception of content? Etc.

  16. To a degree, I appreciate the point of proclamation and listening. When we attend a speech or a play or musical, it isn’t common to have the benefit of text. Subtitles at the opera are a novelty (like watching them in movie theaters). The Scriptures, like drama, were originally an oral medium–even the letters of the New Testament. I suspect these were read aloud at the Breaking of the Bread for the benefit of all, not passed from hand to hand.

    That said, a believer may be just as surprised by a sighted review of the words being proclaimed. Do clergy print out homilies and make them available? Prefaces, and not just collects? Let’s not fool ourselves: we provide what is easy to provide. Not what is difficult.

    Speaking as a liturgist, I don’t have a problem with giving people the option of seeing the readings. When it comes to drama, I know I get more out of a play I’ve read when I see it in person. I also appreciate the experience (for example) of reading Hamilton lyrics after many listens on my cd player. I don’t think oral and visual communication are in conflict.

    It is the mark of an aspiring spiritual person to move outside one’s comfort zone. Sometimes, there will be more benefit to listening to the Scriptures rather than reading them. (Or vice versa.) There’s a suggestion at liturgy that there is more behind the printed page. This is not unlike the notion that there is more behind the texture, taste, substance, and molecular structure of bread and wine. Are we looking to go deeper? Or are we satisfied with surface observations that keep us satisfied?

  17. Charles,

    I don’t think arguments about original intention are likely to be very fruitful.

    For example, it would raise questions of if chant / cantillation would be necessary, or indeed who the real presumed audience of certain texts actually were (even in low literacy societies, other literate people are often the target audience for literary texts).

    Jim’s mention of Marshall McLuhan actually actually reinforces this point. One of McLuhan’s explict engagements with liturgy, in his book The Medium and the Light: Reflection on Religion, suggests the introduction of the microphone drove the change to the vernacular and facing the congregation.

    In light of this, it would seem McLuhan suggests to us not just that the medium is the message, but that the techno-social context changes what even a unchanged medium messages. That is to say, listening in the age of the Internet isn’t the same as listening in the age of TV.

    In which case, the need to listen to what people are asking for becomes even more urgent. Principles from past decades, no often how oft repeated, can’t guide us. We need to discern, in the concrete, what works in our context.

    A task which may well be helped by imposing less, and allowing people to engage with the Word in a manner they individually discern to be most fruitful (just as, indeed, Pope Francis asked us to in another context in Amoris Laetitia).

  18. This discussion needs some prior thinking, i.e. What is it that we expect to happen? We can’t discern what works if we don’t know what “working” is. Do we expect people who hear “Rejoice Jerusalem!” to leave the Church rejoicing?

    “By His power [Christ] is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” Sacrosanctum Concillium 7

    From this, I’d think that encountering the word being proclaimed by the Word is the point. The person who encounters the word in the text, and not in the Person proclaiming, Is missing something important. It goes beyond “the medium is the message” to a core religious value, the personal encounter with Christ.

    It is possible, sometimes even necessary, to use texts and still realize that Christ is speaking to each person. If that works, that is great. But if people treat the text as something like the thousands of books in a library, and not as a personal message from God, that is not as good. Discernment is needed, both to the purpose of the readings and the way we listen.

  19. I will reiterate once more my ideal: that people are given next week’s readings at the end of Mass, take them away and read them, and then return next week, ready to listen and celebrate what they already have within them.

    But it’s an ideal, not something which I am pushing as compulsory. For many people it’s too much hassle. And for many people, the Word of God goes straight over their head either because of the translation, or the standard of proclamation of the reader, or the lousy sound system, or a combination of all those, but equally often because those listening are not tuned in, so that if they are listening or reading or both will make little difference. My limited research talking to people in pews about this is that many people do not take in the readings at all. It’s just a drone of words in the background, or a densely-printed page which does not impact them at all. They are, in fact, tuned out by a liturgy of words rather than a Celebration of the Word.

    For me, that is tragic. I want people to be really engaged by the reader, so much so that they will actually want to put down whatever worship aid they may be using and just listen — yes, listen better — even with jaws dropping, to the power of the Word of God transforming their hearts and minds.

    Those who are arguing on the basis of what they personally prefer are missing the point. It’s not actually about what one wants, it’s about what has the potential to be the best for us. Lots of people confuse comprehending the Word with hearing the Word. That’s why the learning intelligences argument is a weak one. Intellectual comprehension of the meaning of the words is useless if we are not inspired by the word and radically changed by it. For me, the statement that “I can hear the Word better if I read it at the same time as it is being enunciated in the background” does not hold water.

    If you still want to criticise me, please make allowances for a vision that may be different from your own but equally valid.

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      “I want people to be really engaged by the reader, so much so that they will actually want to put down whatever worship aid they may be using and just listen — yes, listen better — even with jaws dropping, to the power of the Word of God transforming their hearts and minds.”

      This is no less about what you prefer. I would suggest that it’s not an ideal as you stated it, because as you state it, it’s more of a “photo” than a “movie” situation – it frames things in terms of an individual moment, rather than as part of a stream of spiritual growth. That framing is far too typical of folks in the liturgy business, it were.

      While there are “Pentecostal preaching” moments (not only in Acts, but in Gospel pericopes), it seems to be more common that even audiences of Jesus and the Apostles were not always so engaged or moved in the moment. But engagement and transformation can happen on delay.

      Emmaus is perhaps the idealized example (even then, there was delay) – at least for me, I take Emmaus as one essential part of the paradigm for our liturgy (but it’s not the only one). But let’s take another: John’s Easter accounts. Note that, despite Jesus’ appearance on Easter Sunday, the doors are *still locked* the following Sunday. Similarly, in Acts, note how long it takes after the Great Commission for the Apostles to take up preaching to and conversion of the Gentiles in full. *Many years* (like, say, 15). The trope of Apostles-Not-Quite-Getting-It more than lingers, but persists. One might consider that it’s a feature of normal Christian spiritual life, that it’s the grist the Holy Spirit mills.

      Why do I mention this? Because I think your expectation (such as you’ve expressed it) of what’s ought happen in a given Celebration of the Word is incomplete, because it focuses more on a frame-by-frame rather than the overall flow. And therefore it’s weak.

  20. Some feel that the best way to receive the word of God is in silence–as the inner word. One can easily be surprised by the Word during a private Lectio Divina, etc.–emphasis on lectio. So for some at least it’s quite possible to be open to the unexpected significance of the read Word.

    It’s well known that people have ears so as not to hear. Because of this I doubt that those who don’t read along are necessarily more open to the unexpected than those who do. It may be that the issue is simply about our disposition to accept the Word. or not, however it’s received.

  21. Liam,

    I don’t get it. How is your “expectation of what ought happen in a given Celebration of the Word” less frame by frame than Paul’s? How is it more of a “movie”?

    The sense I get from your remarks is “pay no attention. Read a book, pray the rosary, someday maybe you will react.” I can’t imagine that is what you are trying to say, but I can’t make any other sense out of it.

    Movies, btw, are a succession of photos projected to give the sense of a story. The delay, the unmemorable moments, are usually edited out or replaced by memorable moments that express the same thing. The growth comes out of successive important moments, not from a series of unimportant ones. Without being able to frame each frame, there is no flow. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand what you are trying to say.

    1. @Jim McKay:
      OK, the metaphor doesn’t work for you.

      My point is many folks in the liturgy business tend to give more attention to looking at liturgies individually, rather than the cumulative experience of people joining in worship over time in a given community, and that focus of attention distorts. The immediacy Paul’s comment holds up as a measuring rod for the fruitfulness of a Celebration of the Word unnecessarily obscures percolative dimension of the breaking open of the Word.

      I then tried to simply illustrate that point in relation to the evolution of discipleship in the Gospel and Acts.

      And Mariko’s mention of icons is also worth chewing on.

  22. Paul,

    The problem is you have not established that your proposal “has the potential to be the best for us”. Nor that your proposal will assist people to be inspired or changed by the Word

    Until that gap is bridged, I can’t say your approach is valid. Ideals, as Pope Francis teaches, are not sufficient. If we ignore concrete reality, figuring out what actually works, we have failed the people of God.

  23. Charles #18), both you and Mr. Inwood assume that those who prefer to read have not given ‘proclamation” a chance. We have. But even when it doesn’t work for us, some still believe that they have a right to IMPOSE their preference on ALL by removing written versions of the texts. Why do some believe that they have that right? Why do some refuse to respect the lived experiences and self-knowledge of those who do NOT receive the Word best by listening?. Since I hear the Word “better” by reading than by listening. should I have the right to impose my preferences on ALL – and replace lectors with the written Word for all to read, followed by a period of silence?

    By the way, “proclamation” is a rather grand, and mostly inaccurate description of the quality of the readings at the vast majority of masses I have attended in my 65+ years of life.

    Another small point – Mr. Inwood denies that readers see themselves as performers, yet you specifically compare listening to the readings to attending a play or speech – to listen to people who are performing.

    Many professional liturgists seem to live in an alternative world, a world where they develop what they see as an “ideal” way for people to pray, to sing, to receive the Word. But their ideal is a narrow vision as it excludes the reality that God can and does speak to people in all kinds of different ways. Trying to limit God’s speech by forcing all to receive it by listening – when some receive it better by reading it, or by such practices as Lectio – seems to be an impossible task, and a somewhat misguided task as well.

    Why not simply provide texts for those who prefer them, have the lectors continue reading as they do now, but also demonstrate respect for the individual needs of each member of the congregation?

    This discussion is going in circles, so I bid peace and farewell to all, grateful for my parish, which respects all the individuals in the congregation enough to both proclaim the Word and provide texts.

  24. Jim,

    If it is the Word proclaiming the Word which is important, I am not sure the lector or the text are theologically better. Both are at best icons, which point to that who really speaks.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:

      Sacrament would be my preferred term, but icon carries a similar significance. I don’t really think choosing between text and lector is right. It is text read by lector on one side, text alone on the other. Why would the latter be theologically better, or even indistinguishable from the former?

      I suppose that is a reflection again of our differences about what we are discussing. I do not see getting an understanding of the text as an adequate norm for discerning if the proclamation worked.

  25. Jim,

    I avoided “sacrament” given its not a capital S sacrament, but I wouldn’t quibble with it if the broader sense is being used.

    In terms of not choosing between text and voice, I think we are in furious agreement. That is the false choice I am pushing back against.

    Similarly, I agree understanding is not sufficient to assess the success of proclamation. Necessary I’d say in normal circumstances, but certainly not sufficient.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:

      I use sacrament rather than icon precisely because of its resonance with capital S Sacraments. Christ is present when the Scripture is read in the liturgy just as In baptism or any other Sacrament, as my earlier quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium asserts. That presence is not the same as when reading the text from a book.

      Anglican practice is a bit different from this. This is one of the fault lines of the Reformation, the printed text versus the proclaimed word. Maybe it is also the clergy/laity faultine. It throws a few different wrinkles in that id rather not pursue.

      I really don’t care if people follow along in a missalette or on their phone, as long as they are aware that these are helps, and that the spoken proclamation of the word is a primary symbol in the liturgy. Reading from a page that has been formatted in a particular way with a particular font is not the same as hearing from a person who has taken the Word into their heart and expressed it with their life’s breath.

  26. So let’s return to what Elizabeth Harrington said in her final paragraph:

    Communicating the word is a two way process which requires attentive listeners for it to be effective. People will hear the word of God better if they don’t read along from Missals during the Liturgy of the Word but engage in dialogue with the word. Readers are channels of God’s word, but channels don’t work well if there is a blockage

    It seems to me that some of those posting here in fact do not want to engage in dialogue with the word. They want the word to remain safely on the printed page. Otherwise they would not get so upset about the prospect of listening with their ears instead of their eyes.

    No one has mentioned removing worship aids except those who are threatened by listening. I would certainly not countenance that. Of course worship aids are necessary for those who have hearing difficulties or in places where readers and sound systems are less than adequate, or where quantities of people do not speak the language of the reading. But for most people, reading along is not necessary.

    In the preconciliar days of a Latin liturgy, people certainly read along. But they didn’t read the Latin that was actually being uttered. They read a translation into another tongue, or else prayed their rosaries instead. This new preoccupation with reading the same words that the reader is uttering is a recent development that has its roots in the old hand missal, but without the realization that hand missals are now largely unnecessary precisely because the reading is in one’s own tongue and not in Latin.

  27. Paul,

    Again, the idea people are resisting dialogue with the Word is unjustified, and the idea that listening alone rather than reading along promotes such dialogue is unsupported.

    So lets return to evidence again. What evidence, if any, exists to support the idea reading along is a barrier to dialogue with, or being surprised by, the Word?

    If none exists, the assertion can’t credibly continue to be made until it is tested. If evidence does exist, then we can look at it and hopefully agree with you.

  28. It likely worth noting as well, the idea worship aids are mostly a hold over from the pre Vatican II latin liturgy is not supported by the evidence.

    An ecumenical perspective clearly demonstrates this fact. Bibles in the pews for people to read along with is a venerable Protestant practice, still much used today. As indeed is the provision of fulsome worship aids, either printed or projected, which remain very common.

    I myself still have a pew edition of the Book of Common Prayer from the late 19th Century, which was used by an Anglican great-grandmother of mine for precisely this purpose.

    So based on those communities who have used English language liturgy since before literacy was particularly common, it can’t be said worship aids are alien to English worship.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:


      No one said that worship aids are mostly a holdover from the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy. That is your statement.

      Hand missals were a component for some (but by no means all) preconciliar Roman Catholics. They were used to make the incomprehensible comprehensible. That rationale simply does not exist today for people who are familiar with the vernacular being used.

      I have no problem recognizing that bibles, BCP, etc, are often found in non-catholic churches, but we’re not talking about non-catholic worship. Adducing arguments from other traditions is not relevant to what is being discussed here, although it might seem so for those who have come to Roman Catholicism from those other traditions.

      I think this particular thread has really gone as far as it can go. There are two sets of opinions in broad disagreement with each other, and further debate seems pointless. Perhaps we can agree to disagree.

  29. Ms. Harrington – “People will hear the word of God better if they don’t read along from Missals during the Liturgy …but engage in dialogue with the word.”

    Mr. Inwood – “It seems to me that some of those posting here in fact do not want to engage in dialogue with the word. …Otherwise they would not get so upset about the prospect of listening with their ears instead of their eyes.”

    I said I would no longer comment, but my frustration at having my lived experience so callously judged pushes me to try one more time to try to convince those who judge people who hear God’s word better with eyes than with ears to face their own refusal to listen and to engage in honest dialogue without preconceived suppositions about those who disagree with them..

    I am relieved to know, though, that Mr. Inwood does not recommend removing all printed versions of the scriptures. Some parishes do just that.

    Mr. Inwood, it is clear that some here – perhaps including you and Ms. Harrington – do not wish to listen to those whose experience does not validate your cherished opinions. Note the noun – opinion.

    As Mariko has pointed out more than once – no evidence has been presented to support the two assertions quoted above.

    Those who insist that their way (listening without a text) is “better”, the only way to “dialogue with the Word” close themselves off by refusing to listen to the experience of others, by insisting repeatedly that those whose experience contradicts their opinions “do not”, in their narrow judgment, “wish to dialogue with the Word”.

    This conclusion is presumptuous and pretentious, not to mention arrogant. Those who hold the view that reading the Word is inferior to listening to the Word spoken by a lector seem at times to not listen to anyone but those who echo their views – not with their ears, nor with their eyes (since this is a written discussion), and, sadly, they also refuse to listen with their hearts.

    1. @Anne Chapman:

      Not judging, not being presumptuous or pretentious, or holding in contempt.

      People’s lived experience is their lived experience, and naturally has to be respected as such. The discussion we have had is in no way intended to disrespect. Nevertheless, the underlying question here could be framed like this: “Is it possible that someone’s lived experience could be lacking, through no fault of their own, because they had never been exposed to [fill in the blank] ?” In other words, is a person’s lived experience the only yardstick by which to measure? If that were the case, none of us would ever learn anything new.

      That is very different from rubbishing someone else’s opinion, which I don’t think I have done. My opinions are no more cherished than yours. I think no one here is trying to force an opinion on anyone else. But if we didn’t present our own opinions, how would anyone ever know what they were? We need to be able to enter into mature debate without feeling that our personal beliefs are under attack.

      I think (hope) that we have all learned something by listening to the opinions of others, even if we continue to disagree with them. There is no need to feel threatened by a difference of opinion. Anne, I am not upset that you, KLS and others disagree with me, but I am upset at the thought that you might think I am treating you with contempt. That seems to me to be an unjustifiable assertion.

  30. Paul thinks that lived Presence is tied to voice, and that the read letter, if not dead, is nevertheless a second distancing mediation from that Presence. The voice is closer to God than the letter, or book. Wasn’t this the subject of “Of Grammatology”?

    Augustine heard children singing ‘take up and read’. Both the hearing and the reading were important moments in his conversion. I doubt that one was privileged over the other.

  31. Everybody plugs their ears and covers their eyes. They lay on the floor of the church, which has been outfitted with a high tech system that augments and transmits the vibrations produced by the proclaimer’s vocal chords. They don’t read or hear the liturgy, they FEEL it.

  32. 1) The average person in the pew does not read a blog like this.

    2) Daily Mass congregations are often largely made up of senior citizens because they don’t have to go to work and because the Mass time is often later in the morning, (8:30, 9 am ) perhaps to accommodate them.

    3) Studies have shown that 1/3 of those over 65 and 2/3 of those over 75 have serious hearing loss. I’m one of them. I have hearing aids, but….

    4) Too often the scripture are read, not proclaimed by the lector and / or the celebrant.

    5) Some of us are more visual learners than audio learners.

    6) As a preacher I have often asked the congregation “Could you tell someone what was the message of the first reading?” Try it; your response will probably be much like that which I always get – maybe two or three indicating that they could.
    Ask yourself the question. “How well could you do at sharing the message?”

    7) I recently attended a Saturday vigil Mass with a congregation of 600-700 present. Greeter, the cantor, and two lectors approached the microphone. I got nothing from any one of them. Then the deacon stood to proclaim the Gospel. Suddenly I got every word loudly and clearly, only to get very little from the homily as the celebrant / preacher kept turning from side to side in the cruciform church. The deacon proved that it was not the sound system or my hearing, but the nuts behind the wheel.

    8) Today too many of our celebrants are not native born and are very difficult for me and many others to understand.

    9) Finally, I would rather not have to follow along with print, but….

    Father Dave Riley

    1. @Fr Dave Riley:

      1. In many places, a majority of people do read blogs, sometimes even blogs like this one.

      2 & 3. No one has said anything about people not using aids if they have a problem hearing, whether because of physical disability or learning style or fluency. I have said they should keep in mind that this is not an optimal way to express that “[Christ] is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” SC 7

      4. Scripture, when read in the liturgy, is always proclaimed. Often badly, but it is still a proclamation. I’m probably using proclaim differently than you are.

      5. So? Christ himself is speaking. He has earned some deference.

      6. Ask instead ” What did Christ say to you with that story from Jonah?” You may get a similar response, or not. Eventually, more will percolate up in more people if they see the reading as a personal message from God rather than as one in a series of anonymous “readings.”

      7. It is always the nuts behind the wheel. That is part of the message, that we never live up to the Scriptures, though we try. Even Christ is human and has dealt with scratchy throats and inattentive listeners and sore knees. Maybe I need to hear “Rejoice” read with the same tone as “Pick up your books.”

      8. Christ was not native born, I don’t understand Aramaic, but if he were here right now, I hope I would try to listen to him and worry about translation later. I might read along with a translation, but not at the expense of ignoring God speaking to me.

      “He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” SC 7

  33. Paul,

    So just to be clear, from your response I am right in understanding you don’t in fact have any evidence for your assertions?

    And that you are not interested in accepting clearly relevant evidence, even if it means making un-ecumenical statements at odds with the mission of this blog?

    If that is so, it might indeed to be best close this discussion. I think enough has been said to allow people to decide on the merits.

  34. I read at Mass today. I’d estimate that 90% had eyes up. Of that 90%, about 75% made at least intermittent eye contact with me as the lector. The rest were looking into the middle distance, which I consider a mode of listening by concentrating on what they are hearing within a wider visual field.

    What I am concerned about is that in the rush to comfort those who need to read a text for legitimate reasons such as hearing impairment or language learning or being visitors from other traditions, the tail begins to wag the dog and all the flaws of poor readers, inadequate sound systems, failures of articulation, and ill preparation are not addressed, because, hey, the norm for conveying the word is not the ear — it’s the eye focused on the printed page.

    The whole concept of a norm seems to be lost in a fog of worries about compulsion somehow. A norm is not a straight jacket. It is an indication of something which we strive to attain under most circumstances. Mature people realize that something may well be normative, but we cannot always attain it, and pastoral provisions must be made for the instances where the norm cannot be realized. But that doesn’t render the norm useless or make it necessary to abolish it.

    I say: Let’s give the ear first priority, and also see to the real needs of those who need further (or other) aides. Abolishing the priority we must give to hearing/listening does not help us celebrate the liturgy better overall. It makes us lazy about solving the problems that afflict us in audio systems and the like.

    The church in which I was reading, by the way, has hymnals with all the readings printed in them. The vast majority did not pick them up and read from them.

    Thank you, Jim McKay, for your comment at 9:10 am today.

    1. @Rita Ferrone:

      As a lector (in a cathedral) I agree that proclamation and listening should be the norm, while giving due attention to the needs of those who are hearing-impaired or whose first language is not the one in which the readings are being proclaimed. And yes, readers should be better trained and prepared.

      When the lector says, ‘The word of the Lord’ after the reading, he or she is referring to the word just proclaimed, not to the word on the printed page.

  35. Let’s give the ear priority, and for those afflicted people who can’t achieve the real thing, provide aides. They’ll muddle along as best they can, poor dears.

    Lectors read from the page. They aren’t channeling God. Their vocalization of the Word begins with the printed page. They’re reading. Those parishioners Rita mentions who are staring off into the middle distance may well be thinking about lunch. Meanwhile, someone reading along may be entirely focused and open to the Word being proclaimed. How in the world can anyone know for sure? Certainly not by a quick glance around.

    1. @jeff armbruster:
      Jeff, I don’t know why you take that sneering tone. I said nothing about “muddling along.” That attitude is in your tortured mind, not in my comment. The only “poor dear” in this conversation is you, if you feel inclined to persist in caricature rather than engage in fair discussion.

    2. @jeff armbruster:

      Lectors read from the page. They aren’t channeling God.


      This encapsulates one of the major misunderstandings present in this thread. Lectors certainly are acting as a channel for the word of God. They aren’t (as you strongly implied two sentences further on) “just reading”. I admit that, listening to many of them, you’d never know that, but good lectors are a treasure. If only all our readers would realize that (a) they are handling the Real Presence of Christ in the scriptures, (b) therefore this needs proper preparation and delivery, and (c) as Caesarius of Arles said, no word should be allowed to drop to the floor, anymore than you’d let a consecrated host fall to the ground.

      And yes, I know that he was talking to listeners, but it applies to readers just as much.

      “The word of God is in no way less than the Body of Christ; nor should it be received less worthily. I ask you, brothers or sisters, tell me: which to you seems the greater, the word of God, or the Body of Christ? If you wish to say what is true you will have to answer that the word of God is not less than the Body of Christ. Therefore just as when the Body of Christ is administered to us, what care do we not use so that nothing of it falls from our hands to the ground, so should we with equal care see that the word of God which is being imparted to us shall not be lost to our soul, while we speak or think of something else. For he who listens carelessly to the word of God is not less guilty than he who through his own inattention suffers the Body of Christ to fall to the ground.”

      St Caesarius of Arles (469-541) Sermo 300. (formerly attributed to St Augustine)

  36. Rita,

    I suppose my question is why listening alone is a norm or indeed particularly desirable. For what benefit is it worth striving for?

    As I have pointed out, no real practical or even theological basis for this preference has been advanced in this thread.

    I can see of course why reading alone would be a problem – It would tend to individualize what should be a communal act. But as an aide or help, why can’t it be made available to any who desire it, without trying to second guess if people have a real need.

    If terms of being lazy with improving the ability of people to listen, I suspect that is tending to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    In practice, when we skip small improvements in order to motivate larger ones, it rarely works. More commonly we just end up with no improvement at all.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:
      Hi Mariko,

      Maybe I can clarify a bit here. First your last point. If I understand it correctly, we may be in agreement. I think we should not skip small improvements in order to motivate large ones. My approach would be both/and. Work on lector training. Work on sound systems. Work on skills of articulation and excellent proclamation. Invest in the systems for the hearing-impaired so that people with hearing aides can tune in. Make available large print worship aides, well-printed hymnals and the like for those who need a printed text and sometimes a large printed text. I am taking the point of view now of a parish staff or pastoral team that wants to foster excellent worship. One of the outcomes that would be desired would be, as a goal, that the reading be so well done that anyone who can do so will want to listen. They will look forward to listening. They will enjoy listening. It can be done. I’ve been in parishes that do it. It’s a process.

      The person him or herself would be the judge of whether or not he or she needs a printed text. Heaven knows, we can’t micromanage our congregations. How could we possibly know if someone has developed a hearing problem or has a language barrier, if there are hundreds of people coming and going all the time? The resources need to be made available and the individuals who need them can use them. I was in Germany recently, and my German being what it is, I needed to read the responses. A woman sitting next to me in the pew kindly pointed out where to find them. She did not need them herself. Her eyes were up, and she knew them by heart. If I were to spend sufficient time in Germany I should hope to attain the same facility. The norm was in place, which didn’t mean my need wasn’t real or should have been denied. People around me only picked up the hymnal for a hymn they didn’t know by heart. The readings were audible and read well, and people listened. It seems to me this is as it should be. (tbc)

  37. “I say: Let’s give the ear first priority, and also see to the real needs of those who need further (or other) aides. Abolishing the priority we must give to hearing/listening does not help us celebrate the liturgy better overall.”

    I was responding to this. Sorry if I came off as sneering. I’m reading your comment as indicating that those who read along are participating in a lesser liturgy, or were even diminishing it.

    by the way I ‘mostly’ listen but not always. I also wear hearing aids, so maybe that was making me more sensitive.

    Tortured mind?

    1. @jeff armbruster:
      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your reply. I do not think at all that those who need to read along because of being hard of hearing or whatever are participating in a lesser liturgy. They are doing the best they can, and that’s all any of us can do, ever. I have some back problems and kneeling (especially for prolonged periods) is sometimes painful for me, and so I don’t do it always during the Eucharistic Prayer. I recognize that kneeling is the norm in my country. I support it. I would teach children to kneel, and encourage the use of kneelers. The norm doesn’t go sour because I can’t always manage it. But I know myself that I am participating as best I can and that’s enough. Here’s another example. Baptism at the Easter Vigil. I firmly believe in that as the norm. It’s the best possible time to have adult baptisms especially. But we allow exceptions for good reasons — like illness or travel or military deployment. Having a norm means we seriously try to get everybody to the Easter Vigil. We hold it as a goal, we put resources into making it happen. But if circumstances require a change in schedule for one or another individual, so be it.

      My reference to “tortured mind” was about imagining a contemptuous attitude that wasn’t really there. Thanks for explaining the source of sensitivity. I withdraw it. 🙂

  38. Comment in response to Mariko, continued.

    As to your first question, about listening alone being more desirable, my thought is that it distinctly helps the liturgy to preserve the quality of an event. The analogy to drama, while not exact, may be helpful. At the theater or an opera, there is something going on in real time among the characters. Actions take place, and an event unfolds. If each person has a script in hand, however, reading their part and the parts of others as well, it is more like a rehearsal.

  39. Hi Rita: thanks for your kind words. It’s true that my words were a bit sarcastic, so you weren’t imagining this; I should have adopted a better tone. I certainly didn’t intend to be contemptuous by any means. Nor am I advocating breaking any norms. I thought that people being able to read along if they choose or need to WAS normative.

  40. Rita,

    In terms of listening being better, thinking about it, your idea seems to me a good basis for say memorizing responses.

    There are ritual and other actions going on at the times we make responses, which not reading frees us to attend to, thus helping us to more fully participate (which is of course a goal of good liturgy).

    But I’m still struggling to see how that reasoning applies to the readings. They are a point in the liturgy where participation really is focused on a (communal) mediation on the Word.

    Accordingly, in that specific context, I don’t think we need to propose listening as an ideal or norm (unless there is a different reason to do so).

    1. @Mariko Ralph:
      Hello again, Mariko,

      I think it’s the question of ministry and what difference it makes to receive the word through a minister of the word. It’s like the eucharist. We are told by our liturgical norms that we do not take communion off the plate for ourselves. Rather, someone ministers it to us (priest, deacon, or other minister of communion). We do not take the precious blood for ourselves either. That’s why self-intinction is forbidden. Although it wouldn’t invalidate communion if someone rushes up and dips for themselves, you are supposed to receive the “stuff” of eucharist by its being given by someone else, a minister, duly prepared and properly qualified to serve. The Word of God in the liturgy is the same. We can take the word for ourselves by reading it and only secondarily hearing the lector drone in the background, but we are normatively supposed to actually receive it through a minister as part of the kindly way the liturgy advances its particular theology of being an event mediated by a community of faith, unfolding in different roles and relations.

      The reason the liturgical norms are written this way (I could quote some documents, but that’s tiresome, you know what they are already), is based on scripture and tradition. It is actually relevant that the practice goes back even to the synagogue liturgy, and Jesus unrolling the scroll of the prophet in Nazareth, and texts from St. Paul, and Numbers, etc. It’s relevant that ancient liturgies were celebrated this way, not because we can actually make a carbon copy of those liturgies, but because we derive our present norms from our understanding of the tradition. It’s maybe not as severely practical as we tend to make it out today. Pragmatically, you can read for yourself (and you may have to make do with this if you can’t hear or understand the reader). But you can also take a cup off the altar for yourself and drink. The norms of giving and receiving via ministries are really about how the liturgy embodies a theology of church.

      1. Rita,

        Thank you – That is a helpful perspective.

        I would note however this is a theological justification of the norm, particularly the emphasis on mediating the Word, rather than a pastoral or practice one.

        That isn’t a problem of course, but it is significantly different to the practical justification which was initially advanced, which is interesting in itself (i.e. the statement that “People will hear the word of God better if they don’t read along from Missals during the Liturgy of the Word but engage in dialogue with the word”).

        One could I imagine still investigate the theological and doctrinal necessity of the norm, for example should it still hold in an environment of high literacy and different technological methods of mediation, how consistent it is with the spirit of our current or future rites, or indeed if textual aids are in fact inconsistent with a mediated and complementarianism style approach.

        But if the principle is proposed on an explicitly theological basis, rather than an unsupported and unevidenced pastoral basis, I do think that is far more reasonable.

  41. Paul,

    I rather think the point being made in this thread, by Jeff and others, is there is not a substantive difference between what Lectors do and what people “reading along” do.

    If Lectors are not merely reading, nor is the person reading along. If Lectors are acting as a channel for the word of God, so can the Scriptural text assisting a persons mediation on the Word.

    That the Scriptures are primary at this point in the Liturgy, is not as I understand it being contested. What is being contested is the idea that “listening alone” is a better way, and indeed the ideal way, for an ordinary person to fully and actively participate in this aspect of the liturgy.

  42. Absolutely agree that people who NEED text should have it, with no fussing. And lectors, sound systems, etc. should help and not hinder. That said, two points:

    1. Just listening, especially to a familiar text, can be very revealing. We are taught and encouraged to read quickly, and often read (if only subconsciously) with an agenda. To _be read to_ makes us slow down, maybe be struck differently, at least be less ‘in charge’ of the process. For adults, this can be an unusual experience. (A parallel: every July 4, NPR has the Declaration of Independence read aloud. I know it pretty well, but to listen feels different.) So if one CAN just listen, I think that’s worth doing, to have that experience that complements reading for oneself.

    2. As a lector, I have recently noted a perceptible increase in the noise level of page turning I hear from the ambo. This seems to coincide with the increased use of a bilingual leaflet we put out, though most of the community is Anglophone. I think the leaflets (2 legal size sheets, folded/not stapled) make more noise than the missalettes we have. It’s not a big deal, but it is distracting, and I wonder if the noise could even affect others’ ability to hear. Has anyone else encountered this? Advice?

  43. I was going to stay out of this fray, but having read all that has been said, let me add a perspective. The entire Judaeo-Christian Tradition stands beneath the practice of someone reading and proclaiming the scriptures while worshipers listen attentively. Clearly this practice emerged at a time when few people were literate enough to be able to read at all, let alone difficult texts. General illiteracy also accounts for the composition of sacred texts for the Mass that could be read by individuals set aside for that duty. For some 15 centuries, Roman Catholic Liturgy was “said” and “read” by priests and bishops. And although at a certain point permission was granted to re-read aloud the scripture lessons from the Mass which had been already officially read in Latin, I don’t recall that being a prominent feature of the Mass. Though anyone devout enough to want to better comprehend the Mass, equipped themselves with a hand missal. In those days it would have made no sense to speak about a potential conflict between reading or listening to the Word of God. If you’ll remember rank and file Catholics weren’t encouraged to read the scriptures at all.
    It was against that background that those entrusted with the reform of the Roman Rite provided for the introduction of Lectors who could be properly trained to proclaim God’s Word. Seminary training gave greater importance to reading the lessons, especially the gospels. And then came the publishers of missalettes. Aids were indeed needed to provide people with hymns and songs as well as the texts of the “new” vernacular prayers and responses. Why not throw in an edition with the readings as well since there are people who are hard of hearing who might need to read along. Next thing you know come along advocates of a right to read along. But since those who need to read the texts are easily able to acquire them, do we really need to make this easier by thrusting copies of the text into everyone’s hands. Faith comes through hearing is the norm, right?

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:

      I don’t see any need to “thrust copies of the text into everyone’s hands”. I suppose it is more that perhaps we don’t need to spend any time or resources either encourage or discourage their use. An “all may, none must” kind of approach.

      At least if one doesn’t adopt Rita’s theological basis for preferring mediation and complementarianism. I would actually be interested to know who does share Rita’s theological perspective – I am not sure if it is widely agreed or not.

      As to what from faith comes from, I don’t think that passage of Scripture limits how we might hear to the vocal. “Tolle lege” and all that. But I especially think we need to be a little careful standing merely on traditional praxis – A whole lot of liturgical development at and since Vatican II may well fall foul of that test.

    2. @Fr. Jack Feehily:

      Faith comes from what is heard. Romans 10:17

      This is a difficult discussion, since so much has been oversimplified for the sake of the format. As someone said earlier, Derrida’s Of Grammatology is all about this topic. This blog doesn’t allow for 300 page posts!

      While I agree with you conclusions, your history is a little skewed. Mass texts are split into ordinary, used all the time, and proper, for particular services. When Missalettes were produced, they contained the propers, the parts that changed day to day including the scriptures, and added the hymns and songs as an afterthought. Otherwise they would have been called hymnals or songbooks. These started while Latin was still being used, and were a way to address our lack of fluency in language, which reasoning shifted to they address some people’s inability to hear.

      There are underlying issues of reverence for scripture that come into play here. For some people, the Bible is how we come to faith, not hearing. (even though the Bible says faith cameos from what is heard.) Some Reformation era denominations put bibles in churches much like icons are placed in Orthodox Churches. Reading from a printed page of the Bible is itself an act of worship.

      The printed missalettes reflect the Catholic equivalent, that liturgy is the act of worship. The performative action is like icons or Bibles, a way of glimpsing the divine. Sorting this out, how missal points to action points to God like icon points to saint who points to God. while Bible points to God directly, sorting this out is not simple.

  44. I must admit that my attention was distracted by the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass yesterday, when the priest changed the words of the Final Discourse, so that when he was done, the first thing I did was to find a missalette to check if I had misremembered that passage (I hadn’t).*

    Memo to priests & deacons & readers: please don’t do that (that is, improvise the proclamation of the readings). It immediately draws attention to you personally, and away from the reading. Regardless of your noble intention.

    * And, if I didn’t find the missalette, I would have opened my iPad to my bible briefly (the homily proper hadn’t begun yet; the sending of the little children was going on). One of my two preferred ways of preparing for Mass (that is, before Mass) is reflecting on the readings in their context (that is, the preceding and succeeding material).

  45. It occurs to me that one aspect of proclamation of the word is that the reader *interprets* the word being proclaimed. At least I do. I consider the ability of a lector to interpret a text (rather than simply recite it in a monotone) to be one of the marks of a skilled proclaimer.

    Interpretation as part of proclamation isn’t so different from the interpretation that an actor lends to his/her lines in a play or screenplay. In fact, a number of Gospel passages incorporate dialogues (as in the story of the road to Emmaus, or the Woman at the Well), and in those instances what the lector is doing is very close to what an actor would do.

    A lector’s spoken intepretation of the passage being proclaimed is meant to help the passage come alive. But it also ‘imposes’ the lector’s interpretation upon the listener. How Peter’s lines are spoken by the lector quite possibly influences the listener’s perception of the character of Peter. This may be one practical example of Paul Inwood’s insistence that the spoken word has the ability to surprise the listener.

    In our previous discussion on this topic, I compared once or twice the process of reading along to a proclamation of the word, to reading along via closed captioning to a drama on television. The reading along changes the dynamic. Just speaking for myself: reading along tends to “take me out of”, rather than draw me into, what is being proclaimed. I find that, when I read along, I am getting a bit judge-y: I start rating the reader’s proclamation or interpretation of the text, rather than allowing myself to be pulled into the story or the poetry or whatever is being proclaimed. As I say, it’s a different dynamic.

    I just think that proclamation is intrinsic to Christianity. It’s what Jesus did; it’s what Peter, Paul and the other first apostles did; it’s what we’re supposed to do today. I guess this is in support of Rita’s point that proclamation and listening should be primary.

  46. Jim,

    So accepting the idea that mediation of the Word & Antiquity of the practice are the operative principles here, I wonder if we are consistent in applying them.

    Would for example the idea of mediation & proper roles speak against for example the “every one washes each others feet” adaptation sometimes seen in that rite? Would the practice of the Apostles speak against say aids which mean we don’t have to memorize hymns anymore?

    Food for thought perhaps.

  47. Karl asserts that those who proclaim the scriptures at Mass ought always stick to what is published in the lectionary or book of the gospels. Well that certainly conforms to the liturgical directives. So, let’s just ignore the fact that the approved translation is full of problems, some of which actually distort or obscure the meaning of the texts. Many of the Pauline lessons are punctuated in a way that challenges most readers and listeners to wonder “what the heck was that about?” Then there’s the issue of confusing pronouns. Or how about “amen, amen I say to you” which would be far better rendered “I’m telling you the truth.” This strict adherence to authorized texts harkens back to the notion that valid celebration occurs when everyone “says the black” and “does the red.” Is there not a problem with asserting that “many” means “all” but say “many” anyway because it adheres more closely to the Latin “multis”?

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      Actually, I didn’t “assert” it: I requested it, with an explanation based on observation. Improvisation (especially chronic) turns the readings into being about the reader; I’ve seen this happen so many times I cannot count it, watching the reactions of others in the congregation. (I am limiting myself to the lections here because that’s the subject at hand. And, for further color on my remark, the improvisation I was specifically referring to was not re-rendering, but insertion of editorial content, something this priest has become fond of doing of late.)

      On the other hand, the Church commands it.

      Having been involved in community-based renderings of the lections over a period of years and with experts in the languages involved, I’ll just comment that it’s no less an impoverished process for the reader (clerical or lay) to improvise changes to them. Power can be asserted, but not authority. If authority doesn’t come from above, it ought at least come from below (not just a committee nor the active congregants who get along with the pastor, but the entire community, broad and deep over time – that kind of discernment process may seem arduous, but it puts more substantial meat on avoiding doing Vatican III in a Vatican I way).

      There is a place already provided to deal with deficiencies in the translations of the lections: the homily. Use it. The deficiencies themselves offer opportunities for instruction – let’s not hide them. To reprise my linkage from last month:

      This is so not coming from a traditionalist position. It’s coming from a progressive position, though one that often seems to be assumed not to exist (my eyes were opened to this 20 some years ago in that community-based project; among others, comments from experienced nuns from progressive orders making all manner of incisive but counter-intuitive comments, drawn from the experience of going broad and deep within their communities). For all the different perspectives, there was consensus that improvisation by the reader (all the worse when cloaked in clerical assertion of power) was a poor solution to the problems presented.

  48. A word about interpretation, and lectors being ‘stars’:

    If you use an officially produced Lectionary, you don’t have to do too much because of the way it is laid out on the page. I tell my folks to read ideas, rather than mere words. The ideas in the Lectionary tend to be grouped together, and there are generally pauses that separate ideas. Use them and give folks a chance to get the idea before rushing to the next idea. Changes of tone are also frequently clear if you just look. The translators and scholars who have prepared the Lectionary have done a lot of interpreting for you. The lector hasn’t got to do much except be open to the Word and proclaim it.

    This kind of arrangement is generally not available in the Missalettes and iPad versions of the readings.

    1. @Charles Day:

      Charles Day – many thanks for that comment about the arrangement and groupings in the official lectionary. I agree that it is a big help in proclaiming.

  49. For an object lesson, find the 2nd Reading at 53:00 (installation of Bishop Burns of Dallas). I submit that it is simply not possible to read along with a reading proclaimed as well as this. You have to listen. The lector has interiorized the scripture and is reading from the heart, not from the text. Cor ad cor loquitur. She is reading to the assembly and not to herself.

    1. @Paul Inwood:

      Yes, it is very well proclaimed. That reader takes the art of proclamation seriously. It is more than reading aloud. She finds a gravity and urgency in the text, and conveys it in her proclamation, such that the listener also senses the gravity and urgency – and, I’d suggest, its applicability to the occasion (the installation of a bishop).

      Regarding the applicability of the passage to the occasion: the voice – the presence – of a woman of color urging a church official to make use of all the gifts on offer in the community lends the passage a particular meaning that might be missed had it been proclaimed by a white male – it suggests one particular wellspring for the passion and urgency. The passion and urgency may be present in the Pauline text (and then it is the proclaimer’s job to bring it out of the printed page), but its applicability to our community in this time and place is another layer that a good proclamation can call to the community’s attention. Reading the same passage to oneself rather than attending to the proclamation may call for a greater exercise in imagination on the part of the reader to see these possible meanings.

    2. @Paul Inwood:
      I conclude from this video that the reader, together with the Dallas planners, understood how to use sound projection to encourage everyone present to enter the mystery, with a minimum of distraction. The word spoken and heard has taken center stage. Each reader has to strive for that result, taking into account the place and occasion and personal gifts brought there.

      I do not support memorization for its own sake. But I fully support familiarization with the passage at hand, its context and its meaning for us here and now. In other words, internalizing and evangelizing.

  50. Robert,

    The Word of the Lord is in the Scriptural text, its proclamation and indeed in how it has subjectively spoken to each person in their hearts.

    Both/and, not either/or, as in many other cases I would suggest.

  51. Paul,

    I would agree with Karl that the pacing in particular of that reading is quite good.

    However I would also suggest it had a theatrical quality (it wouldn’t surprise me if the lector had some training in theatre).

    While that quality would undoubtedly be softened in person compared on a screen*, my understanding is that liturgy as theatre is not an ideal to aim for (ie as it can distract and work against participation).

    And I can see that a theatrical approach to the readings could well give rise to similar drawbacks.

    * Cameras aren’t kind to a theatrical style. It is one of the reasons why for instance theatrical & TV acting styles differ substantially.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:

      “my understanding is that liturgy as theatre is not an ideal to aim for (ie as it can distract and work against participation).”

      This is just my view: while I agree that theatrical values are not precisely the ideal to aim for, theatre and liturgy aren’t completely mutually exclusive, either. Indeed I believe they share some common roots.

      A person with theatrical training may make an excellent clinician or adviser for lectors because of the actor’s knowledge of the art of public proclamation and auditory interpretation of texts. Naturally, there is a spiritual dimension to proclamation that an actor doesn’t possess by virtue of her theatrical training and expertise – but she may possess it nonetheless by virtue of her being baptized and formed in the ways of discipleship.

      1. @Jim Pauwels:

        My hesitation, from the point of view of what is ideal, if is a performance (for want of a better word) which imputes so much passion and urgency is or can be overdone / overwrought. That is, can such a reading be done in a way which is too theatrical for the liturgical purpose, and thus distract from the Word itself?

        I would not want to judge this particular example from a recording, as the impression and context in that community at that time may well have been very apt.

        But I don’t think I would necessarily recommend this instance as an ideal exemplar, as it seems to me it could encourage people to try to pour too much into their proclamation, and perhaps crowd out intended message.

      2. @Mariko Ralph:
        I ignored the facial demonstration because (i) normally in a large church it wouldn’t “read” beyond the first few pews (viewing this onscreen distorts that reality), and (ii) I normally don’t look for long directly at the face of a reader but mostly in “middle distance” as Rita used that phrase. It’s not the reader’s job to find ways to capture my eyes’ focus. So my comments were strictly limited to aural dimensions of that proclamation, though that might not have been obvious.

      3. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Karl, I agree being on screen exaggerates things, whereas in real life these aspects are softened. No argument there. And you are correct the aural dimension wasn’t so theatrical, but it was still perhaps a little overdone in my view.

        It runs the risk of feeling performed, not proclaimed, if that makes sense. Maybe pulled back just a peg or two and it would hit the sweet spot?

      4. @Mariko Ralph:
        I wouldn’t disagree, but this wasn’t out of bounds for me insofar as I was able to imagine myself in the back third of the cathedral and how I’d likely hear it. Perhaps another way to put it is: Scripture is not a “script” in the sense of a screenplay or “book” (in the theatrical sense), and readers are not actors called to dramatize the words on the page – instead, readers have a more “transparent” role vis-a-vis the delivery of the text. I’ve certainly beheld the situations when a reader (more commonly a priest or deacon) tries to dramatize, and that increases the risk of too much personality inserting itself between the text and the congregation.

      5. @Mariko Ralph:

        re: the possibility of a reading being overdone / overwrought: I agree it is a risk. For that matter, it is also a risk for acting on stage and screen.

        Don’t you think, though, that there is a risk that a reading can be proclaimed in a way that is “under”done / “under”wrought? Personally, I do think so. And my experience is that this is a much greater risk – it happens with a good deal more frequency – than an over-acted performance. A reader can proclaim that passage from Philippians, “So that at the name of Jesus, every knee must bend, in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth” as though he’s reading back the minutes from the previous Lions Club meeting. It’s kind of a fail when that happens. Again – just my opinion.

        You used the phrase “hit the sweet spot” in a subsequent comment. I think it’s apt. I’d add that finding the sweet spot may not be a function of ‘putting just enough but not too much’ into a reading. It may instead be a function of putting the right amount (whatever “right” is) into what is being read. Lections are of different literary genres, are meant by their relationship to other lections to emphasize certain themes, some are more dramatic than others, and so on. The reader must navigate all these aspects, and dig deeply, to do her ministry. It’s hard. Speaking for myself, I’m still very much a work in progress.

      6. @Jim Pauwels:

        I certainly agree there is also a risk of things being underdone. In terms of what is the ideal sweet spot, perhaps that is more than a little subjective, as I think you suggest.

        But to the extent that is the case, I suppose it just suggests we need to be more careful about asserting norms and ideals. “Not being out of bounds”, in Karls words, of good reading (or receiving the reading by ear or eye) might be a better framing for discussion.

  52. The discussion continues. In reading 80 entries, I see a bit of a pattern. Most of the “professionals” – liturgists, musicians, priests, deacons and lectors – presume there to be an innate spiritual superiority involved with listening to scriptures as opposed to reading them. I continue to disagree. Mariko is the exception among the “pros”, and as a mere ordinary member of the congregation, I appreciate that at least one of the “professionals” grasps what I and one or two other ordinary pew-setters have said on the subject. The professional liturgists who judge that those who read scripture instead of listening to it exclusively are having some kind of second-rate spiritual experience are simply wrong. Conceding that written aids may be provided to the deaf or others who NEED them still implies that those who NEED them, and those who use them out of preference, are not having “as good” a spiritual experience as do those who listen without a written text.

    Maybe try a test after mass – as people leave, ask them to summarize the readings and explain the spiritual message. Note whether or not those who actually do recall the readings and indicate they experienced a spiritual understanding of some kind were “listen exclusively” or if they read along with a written aid. Even that test would not be enough, though, since God is not limited in speaking to either human voices, or the written word. Both are ways God communicates. Many find that simply sitting in silence – no voices, no written words – enables them to “hear” God’s voice most clearly.

    In the video of the mass in Dallas, two thoughts. First, I would assume that written “worship aids” were provided for this very, very long mass, especially because two of the readings were not in English. Second, the reading that was done in English seemed very much to be a performance. It was very theatrical, with long pauses and studied delivery, to the point that the performance aspects actually distracted from understanding the spiritual meaning.

    1. @Anne Chapman:

      “Most of the “professionals” – liturgists, musicians, priests, deacons and lectors – presume there to be an innate spiritual superiority involved with listening to scriptures as opposed to reading them. ”

      Hi Anne – I wouldn’t use the term “innate spiritual superiority”. At the same time, one of the things that the original post calls us to do is reflect on why the scriptures are proclaimed at liturgical celebrations. Without insisting on superiority, we might see that there is goodness to it.

  53. Jim P, I do not disagree that the “proclamation” of scripture during mass does not have “goodness” in it. My only disagreement is that some believe that those who listen exclusively are obtaining more “goodness” from the scriptures than do those who read them. This is where I disagree, and this is why I think that parishes that remove written scriptural texts and refuse to include them in “worship aids” are making a mistake. I was happy to see that there was a concession to at least being willing to provide written texts in the pews. But when they are in a hymnal instead of a weekly “worship aid” or a missalette, many would not realize that they should look in the hymnal to find the readings.

    I attended a funeral mass last weekend. There were no “worship aids” for the funeral, even though, being a funeral, there were many in the congregation who were not Catholic, and were totally lost as far as being able to follow the liturgy. The readings, done by family members, were simply read, not “proclaimed” (thank goodness). That’s not so bad, really, as long as the reader can be heard, and doesn’t rush through the text. There is no need for the readers to dramatize the readings. Dramatizing them is a distraction for the individual being able to “receive” them, much less “dialogue” with them. The meaning of “dialoguing” with the scriptures seems a bit vague, and perhaps is meant to convey the idea that people think about the scripture passage, reflect on it, meditate on it, pray about it. If that is the meaning of “dialogue” with the scriptures, reading them is far more conducive to a “dialogue” than simply listening, because one can take the time to re-read, to perhaps check the context (passages preceding and following the excerpt), even to literally “dialogue” with another human being – two way, not one active and one passive. The term “dialogue” when one person reads and everyone else listens seems oxymoronic. If the dialogue is between the person and God, reading may be better than listening alone.

  54. Karl Liam Saur : @Mariko Ralph: I’ve certainly beheld the situations when a reader (more commonly a priest or deacon) tries to dramatize, and that increases the risk of too much personality inserting itself between the text and the congregation.

    Yes! The most important thing a lector can do is read the text audibly and clearly, getting across the intended sense of each sentence. This means preparing by reading the passage ahead of time to understand the structure of what’s being said, any comparisons being made, any figures of speech, tricky phrases or winding sentences like this one (and many of St. Paul’s), and practicing for clarity. The sense of the text is what needs to come through, not eye contact nor theatrics. Grouping words correctly into phrases, using good voice modulation (changes in pitch) and syllabic stress, and slightly more deliberate pronunciation of final consonants and glottal stops–all these help the assembly hear not just the words but the meaning of the sentences and the passage as a whole.

    1. @Scott Knitter:

      Hello Scott – I don’t disagree with any of the positive advice you’ve given re: good voice modulation, appropriate stresses, etc.

      But I would say that much more than that could be done.

      Here is the very first reading in the Sunday Lectionary: the first reading for the First Sunday in Advent in Cycle A:

      This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz,
      saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
      In days to come,
      the mountain of the Lord’s house
      shall be establishes as the highest mountain
      and raised above the hills.
      All nations shall stream toward it;
      many people shall come and say:
      “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
      to the house of the God of Jacob,
      that he may instruct us in his ways,
      and we may walk in his paths.”
      For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
      and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
      He shall judge between the nations,
      and impose terms on many peoples.
      They shall beat their swords into plowshares
      and their spears into pruning hooks;
      one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
      nor shall they train for war again.
      O house of Jacob, come,
      let us walk in the light of the Lord!

      I would say that this passage could be read with great clarity, and in such a way that the phrases and ideas are correctly grouped together – and yet still could leave a great deal to be desired. This is a foretelling of an audacious and blessed future – a life-rocking, earth-changing intervention by God. If the proclamation doesn’t somehow capture and convey that hope and joy, then the ministry hasn’t been exercised as fully as it might. A reader may have to dig deep to find hope and joy – being able to speak that way from the heart doesn’t come easily to most of us, even in private conversation, much less in public speaking.

      The Incarnation is the opposite of “business as usual”, and yet the events of the Incarnation too often are recited from the ambo as though they are mundane and nearly devoid of interest.

      1. @Jim Pauwels:

        This is a foretelling of an audacious and blessed future – a life-rocking, earth-changing intervention by God. If the proclamation doesn’t somehow capture and convey that hope and joy, then the ministry hasn’t been exercised as fully as it might.

        The Incarnation isn’t “business as usual”, but our daily and weekly liturgy by its nature can’t really avoid being so. I wouldn’t want to try and place more emotional weight of the reading that it can bear in human terms.

        It shouldn’t sound like a shopping list either I agree, but it has to be sustainable from week to week.

      2. @Mariko Ralph:

        “The Incarnation isn’t “business as usual”, but our daily and weekly liturgy by its nature can’t really avoid being so. I wouldn’t want to try and place more emotional weight of the reading that it can bear in human terms.”

        I know what you mean. If I may offer an analogy: a “power ballad” rock anthem is meant to move or inspire the listener, but if one listens to nothing but power ballads, the ability of the music to move and inspire the listener soon ebbs away, and the performer resorts to ever-greater bombast to sustain the effect (this was my experience in following the “American Idol” television series).

        Nevertheless, Advent isn’t day after day all the year around in our worship. To me, the season feels “fresh” every year when it comes around. As a general approach, I don’t think a reader need fear that the passage assigned for a given Sunday come across as stale to the listener.

        It’s impossible for most of us to sustain wonder when praying a Eucharistic Prayer, especially when it is the same Eucharistic Prayer that one prays every Sunday (or even nearly every day if one is a daily mass-goer). Liturgy can’t sustain itself on awe and wonder for very long. RItual operates in a different way. But that’s not to say that there is no place for emotional engagement. My own point of view is that ours is an age of emotional engagement. People want it, they hunger for it.

      3. @Jim Pauwels:
        I would caution about how ritual and emotional engagement interact. First World consumerist culture cultivates and habituates us to a hunger for immediate, but fleeting, emotional engagement. (That very dynamic is what stimulates consumption; if the emotional engagement actually satisfied us durably, we would consume less reliably.) In Ignatian terms: we rush to consolations, and flee desolations and dark nights of the soul/senses – but it’s the latter where seeds of fruitfulness mostly seems to germinate, painful as that is.

        Ritual, however, is a kind of behavioral icon. It has a certain, non-natural, static quality that is designed, in a sense, as a portal into *supernatural* metaphysical realities. If you discipline yourself to detach from the need for shallow emotional engagement, that detachment opens you to penetrate to the more percolative possibilities.

      4. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Points very well made about our consumerist mentality and fleeting emotional engagement.

        If our worshipers already are immersed in the ways of ritual (as many/most of them are), then the portals to the “percolative” are open to them. But – and this is just my personal observation – an increasing number of worshipers are not particularly steeped in ritual because they’ve given it a miss more weeks than not. Some may be “seekers” who have not previously cultivated any habits of ritual worship. These folks are the lost sheep whom we’re exhorted to seek out, even at the risk of mildly irritating the 99 who come to mass every week. If the infrequenters and seekers do wander into our building, with their full kit of shallow consumerism, I don’t think there is any problem with our worship making the readings come alive for them while they dabble their toes in the water of ritual worship. The readings, the preaching, the music, the fellowship – these un-ritual-y elements are the things that will beckon them back for another taste, and then another and then another.

      5. @Jim Pauwels:
        In that case, we should be aware of the focused purpose of doing so and be sure we have sufficient facts on the ground for doing so (there are places where seekers are pretty rare on the ground, for example), rather than elevating such techniques to general norms of best practice or using that reasoning as a pretext to do so in effect.

    2. @Scott Knitter:

      I agree, though you might have added correct pronunciation of proper names without stumbling.

      The Holy Week instructions for Readers at our cathedral (partly redacted by me) include the following sentences:

      ‘As always, our task as Readers is to prepare the readings well and proclaim them audibly, reverently and intelligibly.’

      ‘Read at a measured pace, making judicious use of pauses.’

      ‘Read with expression, but without turning the reading into a dramatic performance.’

  55. While following the various comments, I had a little bit of a ‘hmm’ moment that I would love to hear other’s views on in the most charitable way possible.

    As the original author and many commentators have noted, there is a preference for ‘speaker/listener’ dynamic verses ‘speaker/listener who reads along,’ with the most common reason used being that the Word of God (and language as a whole) is meant primarily to be experienced verbally and not visually. My question is trying to connect this concept to the Church’s lex orandi, which is what is the role of the Book of Gospels in a verbal primacy theology? As I’m sure all readers know, the liturgy does not treat the Book of Gospels as a ‘crutch’ but as a strong symbol that is honored, processed, and even incensed, all actions also done to the Eucharistic bread and wine. From this point, doesn’t the liturgy seem to treat both the verbal and written formats of the Word as one coherent symbol, that is two sides of the same proverbially coin, with both sides appreciated by the liturgy?

    Granted this two sides to a coin view doesn’t refute Harrington’s opinion and perhaps it can be argued that it is coherent with her theology, but I sense that it requires us to nuance our overarching theology of the Liturgy of the Word just a little bit more.

    1. @Roger Pieper:

      The assumption has been that books contain spoken words written down. That idea has been questioned in the last 100 years, and rightfully so. .

      Consider two definitions of a book:
      1> book is a story or collection of stories that can be read.
      2> a number of sheets of paper, parchment, etc. with writing or printing on them, fastened together along one edge, usually between protective covers
      Both of those are from

      If the book is a number of sheets of paper, then the written form is important. You can only share a book by handing the physical copy to one other person.

      If it is the stories, the book can be sent electronically, be remembered, read aloud, etc. it can be shared with anyone who will listen.

      I think the Book of the Gospels is revered because of its content. It is a physical object with many pages, and that is important for many reasons, but it is blessed because of the content, not because it is great paper. So while the written format is important, it is the “story” within that commands reverence.

      1. @Jim McKay:

        “I think the Book of the Gospels is revered because of its content. It is a physical object with many pages, and that is important for many reasons, but it is blessed because of the content, not because it is great paper. So while the written format is important, it is the “story” within that commands reverence.”

        Yes, I agree. But I took Roger Pieper’s point (or at least his proferring of a starting point) to be that the book itself is a symbol. The content of the book explains the potency of the symbol. But it is more than that: it is content that was considered so important to preserve that it was written down and then handed down, and that is used ritually to “serve up” the content of one of the highest points of our worship. The symbol – the book – encompasses all that, and probably a good deal more besides.

        I’m among those who think it is the wrong approach for a reader to memorize the assigned passage; in my view, it serves the ritual better when the reader be seen to be proclaiming the passage from the book.

        Perhaps we might inquire whether a proliferation of ‘pew missals’ (paper or electronic) strengthens or attenuates the potency of the symbol of the book?

      2. @Jim Pauwels:

        If the book were the symbol, it would have been a scroll. We have books in the form they are because the codex, a succession of pages, was used to contain the Scriptures. If there had been a sense of ” we must write this down to preserve it” then it would have been written in a scroll. Or on stone. That they use a codex suggests that the book was to be read, used, not necessarily preserved.

        The idea as you express it is a later development, after books had lasted for a while. So I wouldn’t take it as a necessary part of why a codex is used. It is like the use of “thou” in the Lord’s Prayer, preferred by some for its formality though it was originally chosen as for tsk familiarity. The meaning shifted over time, and we can’t use its present meaning as if it were the only purpose.

        Of course, I am a supporter of using iPads. Dedicate them to religious use if multi use is a problem for you. Use them to maneuver through the ordinary propers hymns and what all, if for no other reason. The book, as in the story being told, will last even if the codex does not.

      3. @Jim McKay:

        Good point that the Book (rather than the Scrolls) of the Gospels serves a practical function, which goes to what it symbolizes (that it is to be proclaimed aloud). I don’t know that a scroll would be a less apt symbol. As related in Luke’s account of Jesus’s episode in the synagogue at Nazareth, the scroll seemed to function both as a record of the prophet Isaiah and as a source for public reading. No doubt a codex is more convenient.

        My point about preservation was simply that the very early church thought it important to record the oral collections of Jesus’ sayings, the Passion account, etc., presumably because those who were first-hand witnesses to his words and deeds were dying.

  56. This is not just a long thread but also an enlightening one. It goes to the heart of how to understand liturgy, through questions like “What IS the Word?” and “How much should one nudge worshipers to do what’s good for them?” All I can pronounce on is that I have a much better experience of the proclaimed Scripture—through appreciating nuances, making associations with other passages, gaining fresh insights—when I’m listening only than when I’m reading along. I wish more people would try it.

  57. Jim,

    The question about weakening the symbol of the Book is a good one (as is Roger’s initial point about the various ways the Word is symbolised and received).

    I have thought about this previously in terms of iPad missals etc – It is an appropriate use of technology etc. In that case, in my view was no, due to the multi use nature of Tablets. That is, a ritual object needs to be set apart for sacred use alone (ie made Holy in a technical sense), in which circumstance iPads are generally a worse technology (ie it becomes just a book which needs charging).

    In terms of pew missals etc, I agree they must in some way attenuate / diffuse the symbol of the Book. On the other hand, the fact we all have venucular Bibles at home etc probably has the same effect, but I wouldn’t want to discouraged that!

    So my inclination is to think it is the “set apartness” (ie Holiness) of the physical Gospel Book is sufficient to support the symbolism which we desire it to carry.

  58. Paul,

    I am not sure there is a meaningful population who haven’t tried listening alone. We have, in many places, gone out of our way to make getting worship aids a hassle.

    Listening alone is therefore the path of least resistance, and thus not an experience many have missed out on I would say.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:

      I am not sure there is a meaningful population who haven’t tried listening alone. We have, in many places, gone out of our way to make getting worship aids a hassle.

      Listening alone is therefore the path of least resistance, and thus not an experience many have missed out on I would say.


      I would be wary of turning your own personal experience into a universal law. I am fortunate in being able to see every year a large number of celebrations in many different locations on both sides of the Atlantic, and I can assure you that the majority of US worshippers continue to read along with missalettes and similar worship aids. No one has succeeded in convincing them to try something different. If you doubt that, you have only to ask the various missalette and hand missal publishers how their sales are doing….

      The situation is rather different in the UK, where missalettes (a minority tradition by now) were disposable one-use weekly mass sheets rather than in bound book form as in the US. Here, the most likely worship aid to be found is the hand missal, but a much larger proportion of worshippers than in the US do not use a worship aid of any kind apart from a hymn book.

      1. @Paul Inwood:

        I am aware worship aids are used by many, often by buying their own (ie a hassle).

        What I am skeptical of is the claim there are a great many people who have never gone without, and thus they don’t know what they are missing.

        If people have not been convinced to go without, I rather suspect its because they prefer the help, not because they are ignorant.

        Trusting in the ability of people to discern what God is asking of them isn’t limited to the topics covered in Amoris Laetitia. Less generalised and idealized norms, and more discernment in the concrete, also applies to liturgical participation.

  59. In the US, several parishes I am familiar with, about 10-15 years ago, jumped on the no-written -text bandwagon. The push was to “proclaim” the readings and force people to do without a written text. Many parishes removed them. However, I sometimes visit parishes that I visited on other occasions, nearby – I often went to different parishes on Sunday – and I have noticed that some parishes that banished the written Word completely now have missalettes. Perhaps it is not that the US church never gave it a try, it seems many tried, but it failed to catch on.

    After leaving a parish that forced the “no written text” rule, and joining one with the one-use weekly worship aids ( what a pretentious term but I’ll use it), I found that the one-use text was best of all. Better than a missalette. That is because when something strikes me in the reading, a reading I have probably heard dozens of times in my life – I could underline it, so that I can go back later to re-read, reflect, maybe consult some bible commentaries. To be able to do that is very important to me, and it is impossible when listening only. It allows me to “dialogue” with the Word instead of simply stand passively and listen.

  60. No one can doubt that full, conscious, and active participation includes reading from published texts (whether Missal, Lectionary, Missalettes, or hymnals). At issue, I believe, is the value of proclaiming and praying texts. Some priests are properly concerned about the manner in which they preside, pray, and preach. These are individuals who have found that merely reading texts aloud and following rubrics religiously are not guarantors of an experience of worship and spirit and truth that both gives glory to God and builds up the faith of the worshiping community. Such priests are diligent in recruiting and forming readers who show evidence of being engaged with and moved by the scriptures so as to draw listeners into the texts they are proclaiming. They are also diligent in providing a sound system that allows all but the profoundly hard of hearing to actually hear the texts clearly. In my parish we even have individual hearing assist devices that enable even the nearly deaf to hear the texts clearly. We have two hymnals in which the prayer texts needed by many parishioners can be easily accessed. We do not supply missalettes, but make booklets available for those who desire to read the texts for whatever reason. I have a firm conviction, based on experience, that all other things being equal it is more ideal to welcome the assembly to acquire the discipline of listening attentively to the lessons. There are clerics, however, who are less attentive to things like ars celebrandi and who seem to believe that if you get all the official texts in and follow the rubrics while doing so, all is well in the kingdom of God (and in lickity split time to boot). I would think providing everyone with missalettes is more attractive to the latter than the former. I humbly acknowledge I have little evidence for that, just a hunch. This topic has certainly sparked participation. It’s been a while since we’ve had this many posts on a single topic.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      Fr Jack

      I agree. I think this elaborated discussion (including the earlier post that ended up touching on this) is helpful, helping to make clear this is generally not a traditionalist vs progressive issue, but involves discerning several progressive desiderata that are not neatly aligned. (This pattern is much more common than some/many may realize.)

  61. I’d say this discussion and debates illustrate that we’re taking the Liturgy of the Word seriously enough to care deeply about the media and modes of transmission during public prayer. The disagreements seem to revolve around which methods best allow people to receive and internalize the readings. I’d guess that’s a pretty ripe and juicy fruit of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.

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